Eric Brass is the founder and CEO of Tequila Tromba, one of Ontario’s most popular premium tequila brands. Here he shares his brand’s unique and inspiring growth story, and the increasing global success.
Q: What inspired you to start Tequila Tromba?
During a school exchange program, I opted to visit Mexico in search of a more unique experience. While I found what I was looking for, I also stumbled upon something I wasn’t expecting – a love of tequila. I always thought of tequila as that terrible, plug your nose and close your eyes shot; but I quickly learned through experience that I had been sampling the wrong stuff.
Upon my return home, I jumped straight into what I knew – a job in finance. But I couldn’t get my mind off tequila and wondered why Canada lacked a comparable offering. Realizing the opportunity, I connected with my friend, Rodrigo, whose father, Marco Cedano, was the original master distiller of Don Julio. I suggested to Rodrigo that we pitch Marco to be a master distiller of a new tequila brand for the spirits market. That’s essentially how Tromba was born. While laughed off at first, Marco agreed under the conditions he would be working for himself and running his own production. This became the “rule” in the collaboration that founded Tromba.
We started with just enough cash to cover our first product run and minimal marketing. The next step was to get it into bars; with bottles in my backpack, I went to each bar myself to tell the unique story of Tromba. Through those grassroots efforts, we’ve truly built our success story across Canada and internationally.
Q: Did you have a growth plan early on?
I remember sharing our first business plan with an industry expert, who returned it covered in red ink with words like “impossible” or “you’ll need at least a million dollars” written across it. While he wasn’t wrong, I also knew he wasn’t considering less conventional methods.
Our early growth plan, which we’ve maintained, was to search for less traditional routes to success. While the larger brands have their strengths (money, large distribution, strong sales force), they also have their weaknesses. We noticed they were slower, short-term oriented and lacked a personal story. We ultimately tailored our growth plan directly to this whitespace and built a brand that felt personal and had a unique story to tell. We’ve found that by focusing on storytelling and education, we’ve established stronger relationships with our vendors and customers. Most importantly though, it’s helped us develop a strong brand reputation.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced with building Tromba and expanding into new markets?
One of the mistakes we made early on was assuming we could work with our Mexican production team the same way we do with our Canadian team. We learned quickly there are different nuances and actions that may work in Canada, that don’t necessarily work in Mexico – and vice versa. One is not better or worse, just very different.
In terms of new markets, while we are confident in the restaurant and bar community in Ontario, there are some areas that are more difficult to grasp. For example, what works in Los Angeles doesn’t work in New York. Getting your head around these nuances and learning to navigate massive markets, where you don’t necessarily have those strong relationships yet -- it’s a street fight but it is a lot of fun.
Q: How have you managed finances through international growth?
Through expansion, foreign currency has presented some challenges for us. In Mexico, our employees are paid in Pesos, while our revenue is in USD and CAD. We work with many vendors in the U.S. as well, so it’s critical that my team has access to a simple and efficient way to pay for expenses.
We have been able to get our U.S. team to use American Express® Business Cards, which has ultimately helped our business with further expansion in that market. While we’re not in Europe or Asia just yet, entering these markets is a huge goal for us in 2020. With American Express, we have always been able to remain confident in further expanding in current markets, and entering new ones, because American Express is a globally accepted payment solution. For us, American Express has become synonymous with "Global" and that is exactly where Tromba is going: Global. Right now, we are expanding into many new markets, continents and countries. We just gained distribution into Bahamas, and Texas is a priority market for us. We need a card, and more importantly, a partner to grow with us.
Tromba values and seeks out strong partnerships in every aspect of our business. American Express has proven to be an invaluable tool and partner for us.
Q: What made you choose American Express?
Firstly, because I have a special connection to American Express. My father has been an American Express Cardmember since the early ‘80s so I really consider it a generational Card. In the past, we have used other products, but have always preferred American Express for one key reason – their unbeatable customer service. Whenever there are issues with a certain vendor transaction or a problematic supplier, American Express always supports us, which I think is extremely rare with many companies today and it gives us peace of mind that they have our backs.
Secondly, we consider American Express one of the best marketing companies in the world. This is why we’ve chosen to collaborate with them on a number of activations, including our upcoming collaboration where we’re working on a limited time offer for our Duty-Free bottles of Tromba.
Perhaps most importantly, inside and outside of Tromba, I am a loyal individual. I have to be because I expect and want that loyalty from customers to the Tromba brand. I am a loyal friend, husband, and I also plan to remain loyal to American Express, they’ve served me well.
Q: How has American Express helped you manage your business cash flow?
In our early days, we were competing against brands with multi-million-dollar marketing budgets so every penny that we saved for cash flow purposes was vital. As we continue to grow and build market share, the extended interest-free periods* American Express Business Cards offer continue to be extremely important to us.
It has also helped align our expense management system by introducing a streamlined process for our finances. Any problems we face are mitigated extremely quickly, without disrupting workflow for our bookkeeping and accounting staff. This quick resolution helps with visibility and reconciliation, so we can always keep track of our cash. And the fact that American Express offers up to 55 interest-free days* has really helped us mitigate cash flow concerns, which has been key to our success.
Q: If you could go back to when Tromba launched and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Only one? I think my biggest piece of advice is to maintain your values. Our commitment to standing for something and being different than our competitors has led us to success. When starting a brand, it’s very natural to want to mimic other successful companies. But in order to be great, you have to possess a unique story that resonates with your audience.
Descriptions and opinions are those of Eric Brass and Tequila Tromba, not those of American Express.
* As a charge card, the balance must always be paid in full each month in which no interest charges will apply. The interest free grace period is 28, 29, 30 or 31 days from the closing date of the current statement to the closing date of the next statement depending on the number of days in the calendar month in which the closing date occurs. The number of interest free days varies based on a variety of factors, including when charges are posted to your account, whether your account is in good standing, and the closing date of your statement
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or an opinion on any issue. It should not be regarded as comprehensive or a substitute for professional advice.